Venezuelan migration crisis: Family ties restored amongst almost 3,000 refugees

Publication date: Apr 26, 2018 12:00 AM - Last modication date: Jul 08, 2019 06:06 PM
TSF offers calls to Venezuelan refugees in Brazil and allows them to reconnect with their families who have remained at home and often find themselves in situations of extreme vulnerability.

"I came to Brazil with my son because the situation is catastrophic Venezuela; there is no more work, no food and no medicine. My mother has cancer but her treatment is no longer available locally, "says Gabriela, a 30-year-old Venezuelan." Every week, my son goes back and forth from Boa Vista to bring medicine and food to the rest of the family in Venezuela. We have no other choice if we want to survive."

Like Gabriela, nearly 52,000 Venezuelans have fled to Brazil since 2017 to escape Venezuela's volatile economic crisis. In January 2016, a state of emergency was decreed by the government following the economic and social collapse resulting in serious shortages and extremely high inflation leading to a significant devaluation of the national currency and thus of wages. To date, one month's salary, around $4, only allows people to buy one kilo of meat. Faced with the growing difficulties, many families are forced to separate by migrating to neighbouring countries to find work and help their relatives back in Venezuela.

According to a survey on living conditions (Encovi) conducted annually by Venezuelan research institutes, 90% of respondents felt they did not have enough money to buy the food they needed in 2017. Since 2016, the death toll has increased exponentially, with an infant mortality rate multiplied by 100 in three years.

Deployed in Boa Vista since 5th April, Télécoms Sans Frontières is providing assistance to Venezuelan families by allowing them to contact their relatives, often for the first time since their departure. TSF is using an IP telephony solution specially designed in-house for contexts of humanitarian crises.

In close alliance with the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), TSF initially focused its activities on a daily roving telephony service to cover the five shelters and the Servicio Jesuita al Migrante (SJM) support centre in the city of Boa Vista. Most recently, a TSF Emergency Call Centre (TECC) has been installed at the ‘Reference Centre’, a drop-in centre for all administrative procedures (biometric registration for asylum, work permits, housing permit applications, identification cards, and food and aid distributions). UNHCR Brazil has reported on the importance of communication for Venezuelan refugees in an online account about TSF’s initiative: http://www.acnur.org/portugues/2018/05/17/um-alo-um-alivio/

To date, 2,725 people have been able to reconnect. "I was finally able to talk on the phone with my family for the first time since I left. It was unexpected. Like many Venezuelans, I cannot afford to buy a mobile phone and calls to Venezuela are too expensive. My only solution was to go to a cyber café to use social media. But this costs money, and my shelter is too far away. These calls are a big help to us all,” says David, a young Venezuelan.

Of the 5,331 minutes of calls that have been emitted, 96% are routed to Venezuela, attesting the importance of these calls for migrant families.

"It's a real relief to finally be able to talk with my family after two months of separation. It helps me to feel safe and cope with isolation. The situation is so difficult. I left my country looking for better conditions because my monthly salary no longer allowed me to support my needs. But I cannot find work here; I spend days walking alone, looking for a job. It's a heavy feeling of guilt for my family," says José, a father. His relatives in Venezuela are the most exposed to ill-health and famine, and now depend on the financial support that José can provide them."

Brazilian authorities are deeply concerned about the increasing risks faced by Venezuelans. In light of the enduring daily arrivals, TSF remains mobilised in Boa Vista with UNHCR to ensure that the needs of Venezuelans both at home and in Brazil are met.